Growing a good meal
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but that same thinking could be applied to a garden. At least that's the idea behind the Cook's Garden at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
The garden now features a wide variety of food, including tomatoes, kale, lettuce, peas and all sorts of herbs. But just a year ago, the space behind the ACC was more of an eyesore than a productive part of the center's community programming — until some local Boy Scouts got involved.
According to ACC Administrative Assistant Pam Montoya, the garden was made possible by three separate Eagle Scout projects and an innovative buy-a-brick program that helped to raise funds.
"We wanted two things," she says. "We wanted to make this area usable, and we also needed to raise money for the ACC."
After working with Parks & Rec maintenance crews to remove a few trees, Eagle Scout candidate Quentin Jones built a new patio area where ACC members can enjoy a meal or just relax outside. The sale and dedication of the patio's bricks continues to be a source of revenue for the ACC.
The next Eagle Scout project was completed by Jordan Brewer and led to the creation of a retaining wall and proper landscaping, which allowed the garden to take shape. Finally, Kevin Jung completed his Eagle Scout project to build a group of planter boxes.
"Getting the community involved, the other City departments and the Scouts — it truly was a group effort," Montoya says.
Once the planter boxes were installed, Montoya sat down with ACC Chef Sara Schrader to decide what should be grown in the garden, knowing that the crops would eventually be used for meals served at the center and through the Meals on Wheels program that's based there.
Around the same time, Carmela Selby — a recent transplant from Berkeley, Calif. — was looking for a way to get involved at the ACC. Selby had several years of experience working at Berkeley's Edible Schoolyard project, a program established to promote the farm-to-table movement that is sweeping the nation.
"Farm-to-table is a big deal to me," Selby says. "I'm a firm believer that everyone, especially children and seniors, should all have access to a fresh meal."
Selby initially was interested in helping with the ACC's Meals on Wheels program, but when she explained her background to Montoya, the Cook's Garden seemed like a natural fit for her skill set.
"Harvest is my favorite part. Watching (the garden) grow into something that we can actually eat and share," she says. "Also, I love to put in flowers because we should all sit around the table and eat with the table set. That's part of the edible garden philosophy that I agree with."
A $2,500 grant from the Lake Oswego Elk's Lodge provided funding to purchase all of the starter plants and will continue to fund the garden for the next couple of years, according to Montoya. She hopes to help Selby and other volunteers expand the garden and continue to beautify the space with a water feature and statue for ACC members to enjoy sometime in the near future.
For Schrader, the prospect of using fresh greens, herbs and other vegetables grown less than a hundred yards from her kitchen is exciting. She's already put much of the lettuce to use in salads and other dishes served at the ACC and through Meals on Wheels, and she's eager for the rest to be harvested.
"This program has allowed us to keep more fresh things in our pantry, as well as to focus on healthy living and that farm-to-table mentality," Schrader says. "I'm (most) excited about the tomatoes, because I like to use them in spaghetti sauce for the year, and then also the herbs like the rosemary and the lavender."